Driving home from work this week, I overheard on CBC radio that the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, had threated war against Canada. I kind of chuckled to myself, wondering what had happened that had offended the often-outlandish leader.
It turns out that it is not only the President of the Philippines, but also the Filipino people who are protesting the government of Canada with anger and frustration. They are tired of their country being used as a dumping ground for Imperialist Canada’s garbage. Since 2013 and 2014 over 100 containers of Canadian garbage have been rotting in the Philippines.
President Duterte earned global attention when he declared, "I will declare war against [Canada]. I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to." Within 48 hours the government of Canada held a press conference with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. While she stated that threats from Duterte don’t help the situation, after six years of the government of Canada doing nothing, it seems threats might have been the only way to get this issue into international headlines and to convince Canada to do something.
According to an April 25 Al-Jazeera article by Jillian Kestler-D'Amours, after 6 years “over 100 containers of household waste and other hazardous materials - more than two thousand tonnes that rights groups have said were first fraudulently labelled as recycling plastics - remain in and around the Filipino capital.” Various news sources outline the kinds of mixed waste Philippine authorities found in these containers: dirty diapers, appliances, electronic waste, food waste, household garbage, as well as potentially hazardous waste.
Canada’s Shameful Inaction
In 1992 Canada signed an international treaty known as the Basel Convention. Kestler-D'Amours' Al-Jazeera article further explains, "ratified by 187 parties, including Canada and the Philippines, the convention outlines rules around what constitutes hazardous material, how shipments must be labelled, what documentation is needed, and the informed consent of countries taking in the waste."
Overall the convention was meant to stop so-called "first world" imperialist countries from shipping waste to so-called "third world" oppressed nations. The estimated 2,500 tonnes of waste left to rot in the Philippines over 6 years show that Canada is in clear violation of its treaty obligations. The treaty rightly places the onus on Canada to deal with the mess within 30 days. Of course, like many international conventions, the Basel Convention has no clear method of enforcement.
Since learning of the Canadian trash stranded in the Philippines back in 2014, the government of Canada has continued to try to justify its lack of action:
- In 2013 and 2014, the garbage was shipped by a private company, "Chronic Inc". That same year the government declared that Canada did not have regulations and laws in place to require the company (which according to various news sources is now out of business) to recover the containers.
- In 2016, Canada amended those rules to create criminal liability for companies and to compel them to take back the waste, but this has now spurred any concrete actions by the government of Canada.
- In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Philippines and was forced to respond for his administration’s lack of action. He cited the changes in the law from 2016 and explained that it was “now theoretically possible to get it [the containers of waste] back.” At the same time the foot-dragging continued as Trudeau stated, “There’s still a number of questions around who would pay for it, where the financial responsibility is. This was, at its origin, a commercial transaction. It did not involve government.”
Canada’s Imperialist Mentality
According to a YahooNews article titled, "Why has the Philippines threatened 'war' over Canadian garbage?" by journalist Olivia Bowden, part of the reason Canada has done nothing is because they have been putting behind the scenes pressure on the Philippines to deal with it. Bowden writes, "Ottawa has been trying for years to convince the country to dispose of the garbage in the Philippines, to no avail. A Filipino court ruled in 2016 that the trash must be returned to Canada, creating a standoff."
This exposes the government of Canada’s Imperialist mentality. Canada is exposed once again on the national and international stage as a bully that does not take responsibility for cleaning up its own mess. We know that Imperialist countries are some of the world's heaviest polluters per capita. Based on the relatively small size of Canada's population, Canada is the highest emitter of greenhouse emissions on the planet. In fact, according to a November 2018 Globe and Mail Newspaper article, Canada produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions per capita than even the average G20 nation.
On April 25, Prime Minister Trudeau and his Environmental Minister Catherine McKenna both participated in the Nature Champions Summit in Montreal and shared a tweet with a quotation by Trudeau, "We can't afford to ignore climate change. We can't wait for other people to do something about it." What a fool! Can you be a climate leader if you cannot figure out how to dispose of 2,500 tonnes of garbage? Can you be a leader when you buy polluting pipelines with tax payer money? Can you be a climate leader when you cannot provide clean drinking water to every Indigenous reservation in Canada, but can sell off thousands of litres to private companies like Nestle?
The Government of Canada must act immediately
Of course, the Canadian garbage rotting in the Philippines is a small blip on the radar when compared to the climate crisis we are facing today. However, if the government of Canada cannot resolve this small problem, how can it expect to tackle the larger ones? The people of the Philippines are demanding action, the government of Canada admits it is “now theoretically possible.” But where is the will? Where is the leadership?
It is up to working and oppressed people in Canada to hold this government’s feet to the fire. We must demand that they take responsibility for past wrongs and injustices, whether it is with Indigenous land rights, the global Climate Crisis, or a mere 2,500 tonnes of Canadian garbage abandoned in the Philippines. The time to do better is now, but it will not come from the government, we need to organize and mobilize against this imperialist injustice. With mass protest we can put pressure on the government of Canada to take decisive action to bring the containers of garbage back to Canada. Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government must take responsibility and apologize to the Filipino people.
Follow Tamara on Twitter: @THans01
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